Iraqi government suspends working hours in most institutions to defuse tension

The Prime Minister of Iraq, Mostafa al Kazemi, has ordered the suspension this Sunday of the working day in most of the official institutions to calm the tension before the day of protests on Saturday that led to a new seizure of the Parliament, the second this week, by the sympathizers of the powerful cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

“The only exceptions to this order,” according to the statement carried by the official Iraqi news agency INA, “will take place in the security and health institutions, where a day reduced to 50% will be applied.”

A total of 125 people, including 25 members of the Iraqi security forces, were injured on Saturday, a day when the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, was paralyzed by protests of the cleric’s supporters against the candidacy of the pro-Iranian Shiite politician Mohamed al Sudani, the religious man’s rival, for the post of prime minister.

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Practically the entire international community has called for calm in Iraq. In the last few hours the European Union and the United Nations have joined in through its secretary general, António Guterres, who has called for “immediate measures to reduce tension” and the formation of “an effective national government, through an inclusive and peaceful dialogue, that can meet the demands for reform without delay.”

Al Sadr, whose Sayirun coalition won last year’s legislative elections, has been denouncing for months the incapacity of the rest of the political forces to form this new government, and has assured that the pro-Iranian group to which the candidate Al Sudani, Marco de Coordination, the big loser in the elections, belongs, should not have a presence in the new Executive.

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However, and after the resignation in June of the Saderite parliamentary bloc due to the deadlock in the negotiations, the pro-Iranian group decided to step forward and present the former Minister of Labor and Social Affairs as candidate.

Iraq is already going through its longest period of government negotiations since the first elections held in 2005 under U.S. auspices, a situation that has driven both the country’s population and political class into a state of permanent frustration and prevented OPEC’s second largest oil producer from extracting the corresponding benefits from rising crude prices.

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